Andrew “Squeaker” Neimann is a student at the best music conservatory in the nation. If he’s not practicing, he’s flooding his iPod with Buddy Rich jams. Downtime has no meaning to a spirited soul like Andrew, as he sees greatness (in the beginning), but does not yet understand its contents. As he’s banging away one day, the whispered about Terence Fletcher stumbles upon his “racket.” Andrew is eventually brought into the fold and ushered into Fletcher’s army-like studio band. Here, students play each note with precision, remarkable talent and mounted tension. Andrew is stunned at the meticulousness the band upholds, but he knows this is what he has wanted since day one. Or is it?
With J.K. Simmons’ performance being compared to R. Lee Ermey’s Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, it’s almost a guarantee Simmons will snag an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. On a whole, the film deserves the Best Picture Oscar, but that will not happen. His portrayal of Fletcher, though, transcends Hartman due to the psychosis he not only wears on his sleeve, but how he disguises it through dedication and practice. “Good job” is a phrase he finds poisonous and deterring. With each scene, Fletcher burns holes through the screen with his abusive tongue or his slow burn premeditation to find his “one.” Is there a human living under this tough skin? There was. We witness this evidence when Fletcher has an interaction with a former student and his daughter. On the flipside to this once human inkling, we witness Fletcher’s current motives as he uses a half lie to describe the death of a former student – one plagued with anxiety and depression that started during his time as Fletcher’s pupil.
Chazelle has crafted one of the most memorable D.I. characters in the past decade. J.K. Simmons embodies every extreme football coach, dance instructor or even parent who has taken greatness to another plane. Fletcher has lived on this plane far too long, long enough to view it as the norm. His students are below him, but he holds out hope for one that could bring him to the level he is trying to obtain as a teacher. Cue Andrew.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
Miles Teller has a daunting task to accomplish in Whiplash; he must go head to head with a character that will not succeed unless it is brought to life vivaciously with extreme, bombastic and calculated tenacity. Teller pulls off Andrew successfully due to his ability to submit and overcome at the right turns, eventually arriving on the same plane as Fletcher in the end. This is the epic downfall of Andrew: Fletcher’s vision of greatness. By fulfilling Fletcher’s dream of becoming his “one,” Andrew has committed to the rabbit hole. He’s lost; as we can see on his father’s face as he watches on to see his son drum his way to his own abyss of musical obsession. Teller boasts talent when many could not fill the shoes of this role. He yields for J.K. Simmons on the right beats, but blossoms where he needs to – the final act mainly. The combination of these two is a scary one. One that sets a bleak future for Andrew.
Chazelle’s film needs to be used as a model for tight movie making. Concisely scripted and edited with sharp teeth, Whiplash ups its ante with each sequence. We don’t stop. Tension is created by our climbing of the mountain with these two, not knowing how we will get down. Or if we will get down. At some points, I would like to go one way with the dim lit essence of the film, but I’m not allowed. Fletcher’s fire-breathing dialogue reels me right back into the militant world Chazelle so elaborately creates. It’s tough to appreciate the soothing final effect of jazz music since I am interrupted by slaying sequences that jolt me back onto the street and out of the jazz club.
Movie’s are meant to evoke specific emotions (well, they should at least). Damien Chazelle’s focus on obsession and glory are as sharp as an X-ACTO knife. Not only is the direction, acting, screenwriting and editing focused, but it is almost obsessively examined. With each symbol clap and drumbeat, we cringe as Andrew delves deeper into a lost world of “has-beens” that get talked about over a dinner table. But is that legacy’s best representation? Is that something one should strive for? For Andrew Neimann, it’s worth every drop of blood.
Photos: Bold Films